She sits across from me, nervous. Her blue hair covers part of her face, and she plays with her lip ring nervously. I order a couple of coffees from the waitress. This is Cheryl*, a slight girl with beautiful eyes and a colourful wardrobe. At sixteen, she finds all age parties to be the best place to go and have fun with her friends in the city on weekends. Cheryl is a raver.
We talk a little about what type of music she likes and which local events she’s looking forward to, but the nervousness doesn’t pass. It is because of the reason I’ve asked her to meet with me: to discuss what happened to her last year. Cheryl is also a survivor of rape.
“It’s not the scene,” she says. “Most people in the scene are really nice. I think a lot of the older people really remember what it was like for them and try to make events fun and safe. I was just not thinking…” she trails off, tears welling up in her eyes.
Most of what we hear in the media about raves, electronic music festivals, and club events is negative. Usually they are only reported on when someone dies from a drug overdose or an assault happens. However, many events are run by people that try to look out for one another. The acronym PLURR (Peace Love Unity Respect Rave) is heavily used by regular party goers, promoters and organizers in the scene who care about keeping events safe.
Tim Ellis, also known as DJ Dynamic, is part of the Nocturnal Commissions rave promotion company in Toronto. He feels that the rave subculture has undergone a mainstream evolution through EDM. Electronic Dance Music is pop music culture that has adopted some rave elements, and because of this mainstream appeal you have a wide range of professionalism at any given event, but also a wide range of people attending, he explained.
Tim suggests that the most important thing a person can do is engage with the community, but there is more to engagement than just knowing the people you party with. “The other thing ravers should do is be aware – aware of their surroundings, aware of their friends, aware of what they’re putting into their bodies, and aware of the options if things go wrong,” he says. “We [also] need to set a culture in place that doesn’t tolerate abuse and assault and takes misconduct seriously.”
In Toronto, TRIP! (Toronto Raver Info Project) is an organization that works with various government agencies as well as with on-the-ground promoters, venue owners, and event organizers. It has been a strong presence helping bring harm reduction materials and education straight to ravers. The goal is not to stop drug use, but to raise awareness and help people experiment safely. It is one of the organizations that companies like Nocturnal Commissions regularly work with.
SAFE (Standing Against Force and Exploitation), is another organization in Toronto. It’s an alliance of promoters, performers, ravers, and harm reduction organizations. They help provide clear opposition to predatory behavior within the Toronto electronic dance community. Through awareness campaigns, SAFE is helping the community reduce “victim blaming”, something that historically has been a problem for survivors of assault like Cheryl.
Cheryl is upset, so I wait to let her collect herself. “It’s not your fault, Cheryl.”
“Thanks,” she says halfheartedly. I can tell she’s heard it all before. Cheryl goes on to explain how she was experimenting with drugs, and how she and her friends decided to go to an after party with some people they had just met.
I nod with empathy and take her hand. “You should be allowed to have fun safely without worrying about this kind of thing happening. You deserve safety. It’s not your actions that are the problem; it is the actions of the person that hurt you.
“What types of things would you suggest to other young people that enjoy going out to parties and raves to stay safe?” I ask, not wanting her to delve into the details of the traumatic experience.
“Buy your own drinks, and watch them. Also, don’t take drugs or drinks from people you
don’t know, and be careful about getting home. Always make sure you can get home safely – like have enough [money] for a cab,” she replies.
Buying and watching your drinks is definitely an important tip. Many women who experience attacks at festivals, clubs and dance parties report taking a drink from someone else at the event that leads to them being unable to defend themselves. The woman who experienced the well-known Pitt Meadows rave rape and subsequent online bullying reported taking a drink from a stranger. That stranger ended up being charged with her rape, just like the man in Cheryl’s case.
“Will you keep raving?” I ask.
It is the first time I’ve seen her smile this entire interview. “Definitely! I love the music, the people and the atmosphere. I’m going to be safer, but I’m not going to let what happened ruin how I feel about the community.”
“The rise of mainstream EDM hasn’t been wonderful for the underground, but I’m glad that the larger scene is co-opting so much of our subculture,” echoes Tim. “I believe that a lot of our cultural norms – PLUR, kandie trading, and harm reduction – are taking hold in a much bigger venue now, and although that leads to an inevitable dilution, I think it’s worth it for the positive gains. Raving has always been about community, love, acceptance, and great music.”
If you think that you or someone you know has been raped at a party or event in Toronto please contact one of the following organizations for support:
Toronto Rape Crisis Centre (24/7 hotline): 416-597-8808
Toronto Police Sex Crimes: 416-808-7474, or firstname.lastname@example.org
*Name has been changed to protect this survivor’s identity.
MindfulAide is a graduate of the University of Toronto with a degree in Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence (Hons.). She is a coordinator and administrator at Ryerson University, and a practicing Bön Buddhist. As a survivor she is a passionate volunteer in multiple communities, regularly seeking out other survivors of sexual assault and violent crime to provide support. She enjoys video games, crafting, art, and reading. She has been diagnosed with chronic and complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You can find more of her work at http://rememberhowtofly.com.